Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian and Swiss representatives presented their joint efforts on Middle East nature conservation to Pope Francis last Saturday.
"Your enthusiasm is alive, it is infectious," the Pope said in response to the group.
The group did not fail to notice the momentous nature of their interfaith meeting, with a religious Jewish man wearing a kippah celebrating Shabbat, a Jordanian and Palestinian celebrating Ramadan, and the Pope, all in the Vatican. Noticing the situation the Pope said, "Tonight you will all pray for me and I will pray for you."
"The meeting with the Pope was exceptional, and he was very impressed with our ideas," said Prof. Yossi Leshem, an Israeli and a leading ornithologist (bird researcher). "We told him what we planned as follow-up activities and he was very enthusiastic," Pope Francis has made the environment a leading issue on his agenda.
The group consisted of Leshem, Prof. Alexandre Roulin of the University of Lausanne from Switzerland and his Middle Easter colleagues, General Mansour abu Rashid, the chairman of the Amman Center for Peace and Development, along with a Palestinian environmentalist. They came together to explore ways to promote environmental protection with an emphasis on Leshem's birds watching project, "Birds without Borders."
In 2000, Leshem and Imad Atrash, executive director of the Palestine Wildlife Society, brought Israeli and Palestinian schoolchildren together for an educational project to track migrating birds, According to the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper.
The Middle East is a major stop for bird migrations, for instance Hula Valley serves as a stopover for many birds migrating between Africa, Asia and Europe.
"Nature knows no borders," said Atrash in the report, because of this sentiment Atrash and Leshem have continued to collaborate on various environmental projects.
"The idea is not only that we are developing regional co-operation on an environmental issue but it's also people to people," Leshem said when he was in Ottawa for the Birdlife International World Congress, according to Globe and Mail.